Debra F. Laefer

Debra F. Laefer
Debra F. Laefer (MS 97, PhD 01)
New York University

CEEAA Distinguished Alumni Award, 2019

For pioneering research and development of the collection, processing and storage of remote sensing data that has radically advanced the civil engineering community’s ability to do city-scale computational modeling above and below ground; for excellence in educational instruction in civil engineering in the United States and abroad; and for globally recognized expertise in the acquisition and management of remote sensing data in dense urban environments.


After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Debra F. Laefer became junior faculty at North Carolina State University, and then at the University College Dublin in Ireland, where she rose to the rank of Professor. In 2016, she returned to the United States to become New York University’s Professor of Urban Informatics at its Center for Urban Science and Progress where she also serves as Director of Citizen Science. 

Laefer’s research focuses on novel means of collecting and processing remote sensing to better support simulation and risk prediction for a range of urban issues including the solar modeling, pedestrian wind prediction and the impact of tunneling on existing structures. She is the author of more than 150 peer-reviewed papers, was a recipient of the prestigious European Research Council award and had her portrait commissioned by the Irish Royal Academy. Laefer has been an invited speaker at the Brookings Institute, the Alan Turing Institute and DefCon. Her work stands at the cross-roads of civil engineering and computer science and has been featured by National Geographic, TechCrunch and Forbes.